Art Interview: Norman Flynn (b.1971)

Alt A caught up with the infamous painter, sculptor and self-styled constructor Norman Flynn after the recent POP UP Gallery, Feast Your Eyes at Nando’s Soho this July. Nando’s have 8,000 original pieces in restaurants across the UK. With their partners in Cape Town, their patronage of contemporary Southern African art supports the development of talented emerging artists in Southern Africa.

Flynn is synonymous for his use of pop iconography, superheroes, explosions, religious symbols and graffiti-esque mantras tattooed across the bodies of imposing masked figures which can be seen in his Time Keeper series (2016, 2017) at Nando’s. He states, “the Time Keeper series documents the present. It monumentalises ordinary people from all walks of life. The collaboration with Qubeka bead studio on the most recent Time Keepers was a highlight as it took all the aspects I am exploring formally: colour, tone and visual opulence to another level. The collaboration was successful in that it combined the idea of the pix-elated online present with a traditional craft technique resulting in a translation that blends together past, present and future”.

The decision to take up art was a simple one. He told Alt A: “When I was 5 years old, I was making a drawing of a motorbike. My father saw the drawing and said, “I’ll buy that”. From that day, I knew I wanted to be an artist”.

With 10 solo shows and participation in numerous group exhibitions, residencies and workshops, the South African artist who tends to use globally recognisable imagery, draws inspiration from a variety of sources and fellow artists like “Vilino Tarabella, Louise Bourgeois, Daniel Richter and Atang Tsikare”.

The diverse cultural landscape of his native South Africa does not escape him. He said: “the juxtaposition between refugees coming to South Africa, expecting the land of milk and honey, versus other South Africans desperately trying to leave for greener pastures”.

Unapologetically, fascinated by the mediatised love-fest of the ‘Selfie’ Flynn explains “everyone wants to stand out and blend in at the same time. We strive to live up to a media generated ideal of who we ought to be. Social platforms perpetuate a type of schizophrenic persona: everyone tries to make it look as if they are having a good time all the time, whilst most of the time we all grapple with similar inwards struggles when we are alone”.

It is his technique that forms his uniqueness, seen in his use of reverse glass painting. He recalls as a child growing up in 80’s South Africa there was “no access to original materials”. He learnt the “great masters from Michelangelo to Rauschenberg from a glossy book. The “flat and glossy” pages “constituted great work”. I was always trying to emulate that. In later years, and after many travels, I found that the gloss finish became the perfect analogy for consumer culture’s attraction to the packaged product”.

Flynn who is married to fellow artist Liza Gobler cannot think of anyone more fitting to be on the top of the list when it comes to his dream dinner guest he says, “because we hardly get to see each other”.

In the last 10 years the mainstream has embraced African contemporary art more than ever before, Flynn puts that down to “modern art” focusing on a “Western sensibility”. With the internet and online platforms “the rest of the world has become more visible and the African continent is a refreshing alternative”.

His advice to the next generation of emerging artists in Africa is “put everything on wheels, never give up and be fearless”.

To see some of the beautiful works of art in the Nando’s collection, visit the online gallery 

 

 

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